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Supreme Court to decide case on South Carolina congressional map

Three-judge panel found legislators deliberately moved 30,000 Black residents from 1st District

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who represents the state's 1st Congressional District, conducts a news conference last week in the Capitol.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who represents the state's 1st Congressional District, conducts a news conference last week in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will decide whether a three-judge panel was correct to throw out South Carolina’s map for its 1st District.

The case could decide the contours of the seat currently held by second-term Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, as well as changes to other districts in the state. The lower court panel’s decision has been stayed until after the Supreme Court decides the case.

An individual voter and the state’s NAACP filed the lawsuit in 2021, arguing that state legislators manipulated the congressional map to minimize the voting power of Black voters.

Following an October bench trial, Judges Mary Lewis and Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina and Judge Toby Heytens of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed that the 1st District violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

In a January decision, the three judges wrote that legislators deliberately moved 30,000 Black residents from Charleston County out of the district to keep its population about 17 percent Black. That “target” meant the district would keep a “desired partisan tilt” in Republicans’ favor, the judges wrote.

The judges originally ordered the state to draw a new map by March but later stayed that order pending the outcome of the case at the Supreme Court.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature appealed the case, arguing in one of their briefs to the Supreme Court that the panel “nowhere mentioned other facts demonstrating that politics more readily explains District 1 as a whole than race.”

The state lawmakers argued that the panel of judges read too much into the fact that some lawmakers were aware of how race may be impacted by the district lines to impute a racial motivation. The congressional map was drawn for partisan advantage, they argued, not racial discrimination.

“The Plan treated all Democratic voters the same and all Republican voters the same — regardless of race,” the lawmakers argued.

In their briefs to the Supreme Court, the challengers to the map leaned on the panel’s findings that the new map had a notable effect on the power of Black voters in the state.

“Whether partisanship was the Legislature’s ultimate goal (though Defendants disclaimed it at the time) or a posthoc rationale, the panel correctly found that race was the gerrymander’s primary vehicle. That predominant reliance on race is impermissible even if mapmakers used race as a proxy for politics,” the brief stated.

The state is currently represented by six Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. James E. Clyburn.

The justices will likely hear arguments in the case in their next term starting in October and decide the case by next June.

In one of their briefs, the state lawmakers asked the court to decide the case by the end of 2023.

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